Keeper League Strategies
Ten secrets for fantasy success in NBA keeper leagues
Fantasy experts rank everything else imaginable, but we tend to treat keeper leagues like the way the Knicks are treating David Lee: by ignoring them. No longer will keeper leagues be the bastard children of the fantasyland. That would be Stephon Marbury.
Since keeper leagues often have more complex rules than the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, using one set of rules to establish the rankings proved impossible -- kind of like denying LeBron on a tomahawk dunk attempt. With so many different systems in place, one list cannot cater to everyone, so here is how the keeper rankings should be interpreted: If you were to start a league today and conduct a draft, the Top 100 Keeper Rankings would serve as a regular ranking list. Just glancing at the list, you'll notice some names that instantly appear to be too high and others that seem to be unduly low. I promise I'll explain it all, but it's important to expand your thoughts past the redraft league focus of this season only and instead open up to the realm of the next three years.
With that said, here are 10 rubrics to draft by ('cause rubrics are more fun than rules and guidelines.)
Rubric 1: Know Your League Rules
This rubric is easily the most important but oftentimes the most overlooked. Find out the scoring system and the rules for keeping players -- it's important. Some leagues use a tiered keeper system, some leagues don't let you keep players from certain rounds, some leagues don't let you keep players longer than two years, and so on. Once you have as solid a grasp on your league rules as Reggie Evans infamously had on Chris Kaman's junk, you're nearly ready to start your draft. But before you do, you should...
Rubric 2: Ask Yourself Questions
This is to get you mentally prepared in order to help form a plan of action. What types of players do I want in my keepers? If I get player X first, who should I take in Round 2 (such a great segue for the 1-2 Bounce article found here)? Do I want to focus on certain categories? For those who already have keepers and are drafting with a foundation in place already, how do I build upon this base? Am I missing any draft picks I need to plan around? Should I gamble on Player X? Keep asking yourself questions after each pick you make so you know what you'd like to do next and if there are any adjustments you need to make.
Rubric 3: Three-Year Focus
The rule of three -- not the one discussed in the classic film American Pie 2 -- tends to be a good one for keeper leagues. If you concentrate on this year only, you won't be in the best shape for next season or the ones following that. Plan for beyond three years out and you're likely to have three consecutive rough years, not unlike the then-Seattle Sonics and all of those wasted lottery picks on raw and terrible centers in the mid-aughts. Chances are that you aren't that patient either. You should want to win every year, but don't go for broke at the expense of the future in Year 1.
Rubric 4: Rounds 1, 2 and 3 are Primal
It may seem obvious, but in the first three rounds you want to select the players in the prime of their careers, or those just about to hit their prime. You can sprinkle in a few youngsters (for example, Derrick Rose and Brook Lopez) and maybe one of the over 30 crowd if they present great value (Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki spring to mind), but chances are you'll be looking for someone a little less risky the following year. Though this ranking list is an excellent guide if I do say so myself, you must assess your roster before making each selection. If you took someone at one extreme, make sure your next player is in their prime. The rankings come complete with each player's age as of Feb. 1, 2010 (the midpoint of the season) and the current state of their career. Players can either be on the rise, on the decline, or level. Level means they are in their prime and their stats are likely to stay about the same.
Rubric 5: Minimize Risk
By paying attention to the aforementioned designations of their career paths, it is easier to assess each player's respective risk. Just because a player is on the rise, it does not mean he is guaranteed to rise (ahem, Tyrus Thomas) nor does it mean he is due for a breakout this season. The difference between Kevin Durant and Thaddeus Young is quite significant even though both are 21-year-old small forwards on the rise. With Durant, you know he's already putting up superstar numbers and he's destined for greatness. Compare this to Young, who has played two years in the league also and shown great promise, but isn't performing at an All-Star level. He may never get there, but Young is ranked very high (No. 44) for someone with his stats because he's projected to do very well and reach superstar status in the coming year or two after. By assessing each player's whole situation you minimize the risk.
Another way to minimize risk is to avoid reaching for young players who you feel are certain to become stars. I've reached for Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bynum, Rodney Stuckey, Rudy Gay and others in the last three years or so. The lesson? Reach if you really want to, but be prepared to be burned. A good general guideline for reaching is never draft a player more than one round before you should. Or reach only when necessary. If it doesn't feel like you absolutely have to have the player, don't bother. Too much can go wrong between projecting success and actually seeing a player achieve it.
Rubric 6: Don't Stay True to the Rankings
This rubric could encompass the previous three but it becomes more relevant once you hit the middle rounds, usually around the 50th overall pick. Up until that time, in redraft leagues, you generally want to take the best player available. It's similar in keeper leagues, but you have to pay a little more attention as to the player's future as Rubric 4 explicitly pointed out. Once you reach the crucial fourth, fifth and sixth rounds in the draft, your best chance for success involves straying from the rankings a bit. Why? Because these are the rounds where your future keepers could come from (especially leagues requiring three keepers).
Around the late third or fourth round is when you can begin to gamble a little with younger players with stratospheric upsides. Take the players ranked 18-21 as prime examples. Brook Lopez, Anthony Randolph, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook all have played just one year in the league max and are all 21 or younger. It's doubtful any of them would be ranked this high in redraft leagues. When I put my first Top 100 Keeper list together a few years ago, I was more conservative with the rankings of younger guys, but the instant success of the last two rookie classes has forced me to rank the youngsters higher even though they don't deserve to go that high in redraft leagues or keeper leagues you are hoping to win this season. I've attempted to show you with these rankings that it's perfectly acceptable to nab one of them by the fourth round since all seemed poised for monster seasons for the next few years, starting with the 2009-10 season. Sure you could take an Andre Iguodala (No. 23) or a Joe Johnson (No. 25) here, but you're pretty sure to get the same thing you've been getting for the past couple of seasons. Why not take a player who hasn't produced as well yet, but because they are younger and very talented, has the chance to outperform their draft position this year and reach top 25 status or better in the coming years? Don't feel locked into the rankings. Use them to make informed decisions about which way a player is trending.
Rubric 7: Veterans Are Your Friend
There is something to be said about not forgetting the reliable veteran in keeper leagues. Too often we find ourselves jumping on youthful players simply because they are young and they could morph into a keeper after a successful season. These wily veterans often present good value in the middle to later rounds when people are reaching for the next hotness when clearly, the next hotness has extremely low odds of turning into a keeper. Again, don't worry about straying from the rankings at this point as you try to fill your categorical needs and empty positions on your roster. Players like Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce aren't spectacular and have little upside at this point, but you know exactly what you're going to get and they tend to be consistent from night to night. I'm not a big fan of the geezers, but if a player is falling way to far in mock drafts who you want to snag late and expect to out-produce his draft position, go for it. This has Manu Ginobili and Ray Allen written all over it. Still there is a point at which nabbing no-upside vets becomes taboo.
Rubric 8: Youth Trumps Experience Early and Late
That would be at this point, the flip side to Rubric 7, which could also be called "Don't Draft Anyone Older Than 33." When deciding between two similar players, either very early (Rounds 1-4) or very late (Rounds 10 and on), take the younger player every time. They have a far greater chance of continuing to improve and avoiding injury versus the maxed out veteran with miles of wear and tear on his knees. That is precisely why Marcus Camby, the third most valuable center last year when he played and ranked 22 on the GMTR rater, is waaaaay down the chart at No. 83. In his 13-year NBA career, he's played in 70 or more games just three times. At 35 years old, he's not likely to repeat that, so why roll the dice on him when you could have 82 games of production and all the upside a player like Joakim Noah provides at No. 86. Just 24 years old, his game has nowhere to go but up and he's a much better bet to stay healthy.
Rubric 9: Don't Draft Injured or Injury-Prone Players, or Head Cases
This one is a tough one for some people to comprehend. Do yourself a favor and let someone else take Yao Ming. Sure he could return as a top-tier player next season, but there's no reason to waste a roster space and a draft pick on someone who won't contribute at all this season. The space is so much more valuable than the possibility of a player returning to help you next season, especially since they were injured the whole year before. There are no guarantees they'll ever be healthy again; Greg Oden, Darius Miles and Shaun Livingston all seemed like possible keepers back in the day. Yeah, I said Greg Oden and he's not on the list.
The same goes for injury-prone players. We already discussed Mr. Glass himself, Camby, but don't forget the injury history of Baron Davis, who doesn't crack my list. He was amazing in the Golden State years including all 82 games, but that was his contract year and now he's back to his old tricks, despite how promising the Clippers look this season. Corey Maggette appears to be chiseled out of granite, but his body gets chipped from all of his head-down forays into the lane. He hasn't played more than 75 games since his rookie year a decade ago. Jermaine O'Neal hasn't topped 70 games since the 2003-04 season. I don't even want to get into a T-Mac discussion. Let someone else get frustrated with these players and definitely don't plan on keeping them.
Three other names conspicuously missing from the list are Zach Randolph, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. Talent and number-wise, they probably deserve to be on a Top 100 ranking, but in terms of the headaches and ulcers they're known to create, it's not worth the investment. If I can't count on you from game to game due to the swirling issues around you, there's no room for you on my squad. Factor in all three being somewhat of an injury risk and that just compounds the problem even further. Ignore the positive stats and focus on the headaches these players can cause at any moment. You've got better things to spend your money on than Excedrin anyway. Beer and strippers aren't going to drink and tip themselves, respectively (or non-respectively given the circumstances).
A caveat here is that suspended players are fine for drafting. Remember, you're thinking a little more long term. If a suspension can get you a discount on J.R. Smith or Rashard Lewis, it could be worth your while depending on your league's keeper rules.
Rubric 10: Gamble in the Last Round
By the time you reach the final round or two, you're filling out bench spots, so why not gamble on a young player, especially a rookie. You'll notice that there are only seven true rookies listed in this year's list: Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Brandon Jennings. If any of these players are there, feel free to snatch them up. They will most likely be gone by then, but there are other rookies who could contribute and a few who could really surprise. The recommended ones are: Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, DeMar DeRozan, Hasheem Thabeet, Tyler Hansbrough, Chase Budinger, DeJuan Blair, Wayne Ellington and Omri Casspi. Also, foreign veteran David Andersen could carve out a useful role in the Houston frontcourt in his first season in the NBA.
Follow these 10 simple rubrics and your keeper league team should be competitive from day one and stacked for the future. If you have any questions, comments or criticisms regarding keeper leagues or Top 100 Keepers 2009-10, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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